Cannes Lions 2017: YouTube - the changing face of original content

Susanne Daniels / June 2017

Susanne Daniels, Global Head of Original Content at YouTube, took to the Palais stage at Cannes Lions 2017 to share recent highlights from YouTube’s original programming.

Two years ago, we announced that YouTube was going to increase support and investment in our creators, with the goal of bringing ambitious new content to our subscription service, YouTube Red. People asked about our programming strategy for Red - were we planning to be like Netflix or Amazon in bringing TV to digital, or did we want to recreate the look and feel of classic MTV? The answer to these kinds of questions has always been a definite no. In YouTube we have something absolutely distinct, with a truly global, truly engaged community of viewers who tell us exactly what they want to watch. So, our goal with YouTube Red has always been to identify YouTube’s most engaging stars and genres, and to invest in the content our community tell us they want to see. In other words, our strategy is to be only ourselves - uniquely YouTube.

In the last year we’ve released over thirty original series and movies on YouTube Red. We’ve produced content across different genres and formats, from scripted comedies like ‘Foursome’, which is so popular that it’ll soon be entering its 3rd season, to unscripted ensembles like ‘Escape the Night’ with Joey Graceffa, whose second season premieres this July. We’ve also had movies such as ‘The Thinning’ and ‘Lazer Team’, as well as feature-length documentaries like Dan & Phil’s stage show tour and the critically-acclaimed ‘This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous’, which premiered at Sundance.

Over the coming year we’re investing in even more original content, including a new scripted series from Lionsgate based on the global movie franchise ‘Step Up’, a new series from award winning-director Doug Liman, called ‘Impulse’, and a futuristic action series executive produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, called ‘Lifeline’. The response from our audience to this unique mix of programming from established stars and YouTube creators has been fantastic, and established YouTube Red as a destination like no other.

With over a billion hours watched on YouTube every single day and with watchtime on TV screens doubling not only in Europe but around the world, YouTube also represents a powerful opportunity to build partnerships with brands. Last month, we announced that we’re partnering with some of the biggest brands and the biggest names in entertainment on ad-supported original shows. At a time when the share of ad-supported original programming has dropped from 85% in 2012*, to just over two-thirds today, this is a chance for YouTube to buck that trend and partner with brands to bring must-see content to a wider audience than would be possible on even the most popular subscription services or premium channels.

We’ve just launched the first of these shows, an incredible live special starring Katy Perry called ‘Witness World Wide’. The show was available to audiences around the world, and over the course of an incredible 96 hours, Katy Perry and her celebrity guests engaged in thought provoking conversations about feminism, politics and issues of diversity, to lighthearted and fun segments and exclusive music performances. The special generated over 48 million views, was watched by people in over 190 countries, and really exemplifies why we wanted to put original programming on ad-supported YouTube. At a time when even the most popular shows on linear TV, such as AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’, are programmed region by region, truly global conversations can only happen on a truly global platform. ‘Katy Perry - Witness World Wide’ created a global media moment, drawing in an audience who engaged through clicks, shares and social media posts on a tremendous scale.

We’ve already greenlit six more shows featuring stars who’ve called YouTube home for quite some time, including Ellen DeGeneres, Ryan Seacrest and Kevin Hart, as well as beloved YouTube Stars Rhett & Link and The Slow Mo Guys. Our guest at Cannes Lions this year, Demi Lovato, will also be bringing her talents to YouTube in an amazing new show that will take an inside look at the reinvention of her music and her work as an advocate, philanthropist and businesswoman.

Anyone who’s in the business of creativity wants to find fresh ways to tell stories that connect with audiences and resonate emotionally. Whether it’s an original reality series, a scripted comedy, a movie or even a piece of video advertising, the primary goal is to tap into an audience’s feelings. What’s incredibly exciting about all these new shows is that, away from the constraints of time slots and episode lengths, our creators will be able to play with content formats, and even flex their shows on the fly as audience feedback flows in with unprecedented immediacy. I, for one, can’t wait to see they come up with.

Cannes 2017: YouTube - reinventing popular culture